I’m almost certain that Tonya Battle would have been perfectly fine with not having to look after another newborn on her shift.
What she wasn’t fine with, though, was the racism that went along with that relief.
Last October Battle, a black nurse working in the neonatal intensive care unit at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Mich., was caring for a white newborn when she was abruptly reassigned from that duty. As it turns out, the baby’s father said he didn’t want a black nurse caring for his child.
What was worse was that the hospital obliged this racist, even placed a sign, in fact, on the assignment chart saying that no blacks were to care for that baby.
I wonder if they would have banned black people from using the water fountain on that floor if the bigoted father refused to use it if they did.
Now Battle is suing her employer – as she should. But during these times, times in which the election of a black president, times in which the fear of being outnumbered by Latinos and times in which right-wing talkers have many whites believing that being able to discriminate is among the “rights” they are losing, I fear that we haven’t seen the last of this kind of craziness.
In fact, what happened to Battle isn’t unique.
Last March DeWitt Thomas, a white man, refused to allow a black man to bag his groceries at a store in Big Sandy, Texas. According to news reports, he told the bagger, Aaron Menefee, “Wait a minute, don’t touch my groceries. I can’t have someone negroidal touch my food. It’s against my creed.”
Menefee called someone else to sack Thomas’ groceries, but when he returned two days later and made the same request, Menefee’s boss, Keith Langston, who wasn’t in the store when the first incident occurred, didn’t cave into Thomas’ demands – as Hurley Medical Center did for the white father.
Instead, he filed a criminal trespass charge against him.
Thomas, however, had the nerve to file a lawsuit against Langston, claiming that by kicking him out and banning him from the store, he was violating his civil rights; that “white people are to be protected under the same civil rights law as everyone else.”
Boy, does he have it twisted.
Civil rights is what guarantees people access to education, to the ballot box, to jobs and to facilities regardless of their race, sex, ethnicity or religion. Civil rights do not give people the right to use race, sex, ethnicity or religion to discriminate.
If that were the case, a bunch of neo-Nazi skinheads could walk into a diner, take up half the seats, request that no black people or Jews be seated near them, then claim their civil rights were violated if a black person is seated close by.
If that was the case, white separatists could go to a public beach or pool and claim their rights to their beliefs were violated because blacks or Latinos weren’t kept separate from them.
I expect to see more of this, though, because the people like the swastika-sporting father who didn’t want Battle to attend to his baby, and the grocery customer who tried to use religion as a cover for his racism, are struggling with their soon-to-be minority status.
But the difference between them and us is that when we were fighting for our civil rights, we were fighting for rights and access that had been denied to us legally and otherwise.
These bigots, however, have never been denied anything. But they’ve always believed that being able to exclude people who don’t look like them from everyday facets of their lives is a right that defines them – and one they ought to be fighting for before Obama takes away their guns and the Latinos take away their jobs.
Obviously, the age of Obama has spawned an alternate age of unreasonableness; an age where some whites believe rights and privileges for people of color equate to victimization for them.
And the enemy is anyone who makes them feel victimized by defying their notions of superiority – be it a black nurse caring for their baby or a black guy bagging their groceries.
The madness continues.
Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her @tonyaajw. Or visit her webpage and blog, “Tonyaa’s Take,” at www.tonyaajweathersbee.com.